Recently, I chaperoned ThingFive’s field trip to a neighboring town. After the students ate a picnic lunch in a park, all the second graders were playing on the playground, sliding, swinging from monkey bars, climbing up chain-webs and dangling from high bars.
As I watched the children demonstrate their climbing and flipping abilities on the monkey bars, (“Watch me!” “Look at this!” “I take gymnastics; look what I can do!”) another mother came and stood beside me. We introduced ourselves and pointed out our sons and laughed about the competitive nature of second-grade girls.
As another little boy ran by, this mom motioned to him and told me that her son and that little boy had “an issue” earlier in the year. She saw that boy’s mother across the field but wasn’t sure if she should go talk to her or not. Certainly that boy’s mother thought she was a horrible mother because of what her son had done. She confided in me that when the incident first happened, she worried that maybe she was doing everything all wrong; maybe she was an awful mother.
I tried to be reassuring. I tried to encourage her. I said some of the right things — that most mothers worry about that, that even really excellent parenting cannot guarantee perfect children, that children will make mistakes and it’s our job to help them learn from those mistakes, that really horrible mothers wouldn’t even worry about being horrible mothers.
And I believe all those things. I think I spoke truth to her. But I didn’t tell her what I should have told her. I didn’t share my own most embarrassing parenting moments, which would surely have made her feel much better about herself as a mother. I wish I had chosen to respond to her vulnerability by being honest and vulnerable with her.
I wish I had told her about the time my son helped himself to candy from a teacher’s desk. Many times over the course of a few weeks. I was horrified that my child would do such a thing! Upon discovering what he’d been up to, I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t about me, and getting my pride all caught up in the situation wasn’t going to accomplish anything. With much prayer and humility, I dealt with the situation and hope my son learned some lifelong lessons in the process.
I could have told this mom about the time my sons were sliding down a banister from the third story of a building and when another adult told them to stop (because it was dangerous!), they looked her in the face and said, “You’re not our boss! We don’t have to listen to you!”
I could have told her about the times my children have willfully and foolishly destroyed property — hacking into a tree in someone else’s yard with a tennis racket, peeling paint off walls that were not ours, writing on walls with a Sharpie, jamming a screwdriver into drywall.
Or I could have told her about the time one of my sons bullied a classmate, a boy he really liked, just because he saw other kids doing it and jumped on the bandwagon. Fortunately, his siblings told on him and we nipped that in the bud rather quickly.
But there is one story that would surely have made her feel like Mother of the Year, compared to me. This is the story I really regret not telling her that day. This is the moment that made me wonder about myself, “What kind of mother raises a son that does that sort of thing?!”
One evening my sons were playing with neighbor boys. And suddenly an idea popped into one of my son’s minds. Without any hesitation, he decided to go with the idea. Running into our apartment, he grabbed a bucket and took it to the bathroom and peed in it. Then he took the bucket of urine into the hall and dumped it on the neighbor boy’s head.
Yes, you read that correctly. Yes, it is one of the most disgusting things you’ve heard all
week month year.
My son was not angry. He was not upset. He felt no ill-will toward the neighbor at all. He repeatedly told me the idea just popped into his head, and he did it.
Aghast, I wondered, Was my son being raised by wolves? Would he actually be better off being raised by wolves? What sort of mother was I, that my offspring would pee in a bucket and dump it on another child’s head?
I was mortified. Disgusted. Appalled. Humbled beyond words.
Children have a way of doing that to you. They aren’t little robots. Even if I were a perfect mother -and I am sooooo NOT!- my children wouldn’t necessarily behave perfectly. They have minds of their own. Clearly, they sometimes have really, really gross minds of their own. And their behavior often reminds me that I am not in control.
Yes, I am responsible for teaching them. But when I feel personally to blame for every one of their bad decisions, when I start to believe that their bad choices make me a bad mother, then I am assuming far too much control.
Honestly, it’s pride. It’s giving myself even more credit and blame than I give God. After all, he’s my Father; is He an awful Father when I willfully and foolishly do wrong things?
So I wish I had told that mother that all of us have embarrassing moments when our children do things that mortify us and humble us. And it’s normal to do a little soul-searching and examination to see if we’re doing all we can in teaching and training them. A little bit of that is probably even healthy. But it’s not healthy to berate ourselves and give ourselves too much credit for the good or the bad behaviors that our children display.
I wish I had told her that the sweet, loving things my son does far outnumber the times he has jabbed a screwdriver into a wall or dumped urine on a kid’s head. And that I’m sure that’s true about her son too.
I wish I had told her that just as we give our children grace to learn through mistakes, we also can give ourselves grace as imperfect mothers of imperfect children.